ATLANTA (BP)–The Georgia Baptist Convention’s executive committee voted unanimously March 13 to defund the Atlanta Baptist Association in response to the association’s failure to expel two pro-homosexual congregations from its membership.
The Atlanta association will lose $47,000 in special project money and $113,000, matched by the Southern Baptist Convention to fund 16 Atlanta-area missionaries. The association’s annual budget is about $750,000.
J. Robert White, executive director of the GBC, noted that Georgia Baptists need to be brothers and sisters in Christ, but that they need to take stands for righteousness.
“It is clear that the association has left the convention, and not the other way around,” White told The Christian Index newsjournal.
White went on to say that there had been an extremely aggressive agenda nationally on the part of the homosexual lobby and he didn’t believe the Atlanta Baptist Association was fully aware of what they were approving by their vote.
“If the executive committee does not take a strong position on this, it will send a tidal wave throughout the Southern Baptist Convention and the nation,” White noted to The Christian Index.
Funding will end on Dec. 31. Robert E. Reccord, president of the SBC North American Mission Board, has stated that the agency will affirm the state’s decision.
The GBC’s move comes one day after an attempt to expel from the Atlanta Baptist Association two churches that affirm homosexuality came up short, when messengers to the 93rd annual meeting of the association failed to reach a two-thirds majority.
As a result, Oakhurst Baptist Church and Virginia-Highland Baptist Church will remain affiliated with the 143 congregations and missions of the association. However, both churches could face future disciplinary action from the association after messengers voted to send the issue back to the ABA’s membership committee for disciplinary review.
Still, that may not be enough for a number of conservative Baptist churches that have already announced their intentions of pulling out of the association.
The expulsion vote came immediately following a successful effort by Mount Vernon Baptist Church pastor Sam Boyd to amend the association’s bylaws. The new amendment noted “an affiliated church does not include a church which knowingly takes, or has taken, any action to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.”
That amendment passed with 300 votes, five more than were needed for a two-thirds majority. However, the vote came following a heated discussion concerning whether to conduct the vote by secret ballot. Ultimately, supporters of the amendment obtained a public vote on the issue.
In prepared remarks, White stressed that it was the association, not the convention, which had withdrawn.
“I do not believe it is possible for anyone to adequately explain to me how a group of Baptist churches could vote their support of churches that publicly approve what God has condemned,” White said in his remarks to the GBC executive committee. “I do know that there is a group of Baptists among us who believe that freedom is supreme. They speak of their belief that being Baptist means being free. They have expressed that local church autonomy is an annunciation of that freedom and should be protected at all cost. Our forebears never intended that our freedom as Baptists would include freedom from Scripture.
“They would never have approved of using local church autonomy to validate agreement with political correctness of the modern day while rejecting the ageless Word of God,” he added.
White further suggested that there was anger behind the confusing vote.
“We have churches that are angry with the Southern Baptist Convention,” he said. “This goes back 20 years to the conservative movement’s beginnings in the SBC. They are angry about the way Baptist leaders of the past were treated. They are angry about not being able to get someone elected as president of the SBC. They are angry about the Disney boycott. They are angry about feeling disenfranchised from the SBC. They are angry about the revisions to the Baptist Faith and Message. They are angry with the Georgia Baptist Convention for some of the same reasons.
“I know these things because I hear from Baptists across Georgia and across the country,” White said. “Their anger is part of this. They have said, ‘You have pushed us where we don’t want to go and we will go no further.’ Sadly, they have used this homosexual matter upon which to take their stand.”
White said that Georgia Baptists should respond with love but maintain their conviction.
“I encourage Georgia Baptists to do everything they can to build relationships with those who will stand with us in theology, doctrine and practice,” White said in his remarks. “Where possible we should seek common ground, but we must not surrender our convictions.
“I call on associations in Georgia and throughout the Southern Baptist Convention to deal with these matters at the local level,” he said. “Frankly, such matters should not have to be handled at the state convention level. When the Atlanta Baptist Association did not act on the two churches, the convention had to get involved. Had the association maintained the credentialing process with its churches, they would have removed Oakhurst and Virginia-Highland and the issue would never have come to the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1998 and 1999.”